I'm new to growing from seed,how do I get started?
Starting your own plants from seed is one of the most rewarding gardening experiences, it can also save you a small fortune! Also, many species and varieties are simply unavailable unless you "grow-your-own".
Choosing seeds is the first step, there are many reputable companies that offer catalogs, besides the fun of browsing through them, mail-order companies are generally good about dealing with any problems you might have. In buying seeds through retail outlets,it's a matter of "buyer beware" ,those 10/$1 seeds may not be such a bargain if they don't grow! Check the package for date,and complete growing instructions,a reputable seed company will also list the Latin name and germination percentage you can expect.If you've acquired seeds from GardenWeb swaps,or other seed sources ,ask for any info the grower can give!
You can use most any container,as long as it will hold 3-4 " of growing medium and has drainage holes in the bottom. Flats with liners are nice,but "recycled" containers will do, if you're reusing containers, follow the cleaning instructions under "what is damping-off?".
Seeds need a loose,porous,fine-textured medium, one that won't develop a "crust" on the surface that can interfere with emergence .
"Potting soil" is an extremely variable product, many retail brands (especially the "bargain" types)will give disappointing results in seed-starting! A "soil-less" mix will make your growing experience much easier.
Some common ingredients in soil-less mixes:
Vermiculite, a heat-expanded rock, can be used alone or in combination for starting seeds.
Milled sphagnum moss (NOT the same as peat moss unless it says"sphagnum peat")has the benefit of inhibiting damp-off fungus, mixed with vermiculite it is frequently used by professionals.
Peat moss(sometimes called "Michigan peat" or "peat humus")a heavier,more difficult to wet and more variable product than sphagnum moss ,is common in retail mixes sold for starting seeds,often in combination with perlite or vermiculite,it's often(much!) cheaper than sphagnum-containing mixes but can be more difficult to handle,especially for the beginner.
Don't start seeds too early,there's a wide variation in optimal indoor starting times,and unless you have lots of room,starting too early can be stressful,for you and your plants! You may want to consider starting perennials in summer for Fall planting,as many perennials don't bloom the first summer,to save room for annuals and veggies that really need a head start in temperate climates.
Sowing seeds: Fill containers,allowing an inch or so from the top for easier watering, and moisten well. Allow excess water to drain, medium should be moist,not soggy. Press the medium down lightly to eliminate air pockets.
For plants that don't mind ,or even benefit from transplanting, like tomatoes and lettuce,a number of seeds can be planted in larger containers and transplanted to individual pots when seedlings are large enough to...